Friday, September 16, 2005

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The Victorian Military Forces

The Victorian Military Forces existed to secure the flanks of the Colony’s fixed defences. A foe determined to ease his passage through the Heads might attempt to throw a regiment or two upon the shore with the aim of storming one of the forts thereupon emplaced. The aim of the Victorian Military Forces was to oppose any such attempt.

The Militia System
1884 was a watershed year for the armed forces of the Crown Colony of Victoria. Previously the system of manning the battalions and batteries had relied on unpaid volunteers. These men contributed themselves and their time, paid subscriptions and fines (for late attendance to parades, incorrect uniform &.c.) while their government provided arms ammunition, accoutrements and the legislative framework for their employment. Indeed, when the volunteering movement began in the Australian colonies in the mid-1850s, uniforms were found by the volunteers themselves and were quite expensive, especially for those men serving in the gorgeously-uniformed volunteer cavalry units. During the 1870s the Government began to provide uniforms as well as the arms and accoutrements in a de facto recognition of this expense.

A recruit was put through a 3-month drill course and had to pass the inspection of a Staff Officer before being accepted into the ranks. He had then to attend five full day parages, fifteen half-day parades and 24 night parades for which he was remunerated six pound, five shillings to compensate him for lost wages. He was expected to serve a term of five years.

Of itself, the Volunteer system was adequate so long as no great strains were thrown upon it. As time wore on and initial enthusiasm waned, individuals began to fall away and corps had to be amalgamated or disbanded. As new threats of war threatened, enrolments might go up, but always the longer-term trend was downward. Flagging enthusiasm and poor attendance at drills were caused by the burden of drilling before or after a long days’ work several days a week and employers who were unwilling to provide time off. Indeed, that the men would simply become bored in the longer term simply outweighed the undoubted social aspect of the manly and militaristic activity on the drill ground and at the Easter Encampment.

In 1884 the government of the Colony made a de facto recognition of this unsatisfactory state of affairs and enacted a Militia or Part-paid system whereby men were paid for their attendance at parades, encampments and manoeuvres. In return, the Government was finally able to extend the terms of the Discipline Act (1870) to the whole of their forces and not just to the Permanent forces who had formed a small core of fully-paid professionals whose job it was to pass on their knowledge to the Volunteers. Thus now the men were to be brought fully under formal discipline and Officers and NCOs were to no longer be elected.

The Field Forces – how they would have fought
The Defence Authorities of the Colony were fairly confident in their fortifications. They did fear however that an enemy might attempt to outflank them. One such scenario that was explored was the probability of en enemy making a landing in Westernport Bay and marching on Melbourne via Frankston. To this end, the Easter encampment of 1889 exercised a General Idea that deployed forces to the Mornington Peninsula by train – Langwarrin is one railway station mentioned in the plan for the 1889 encampment. The Brigade of the VMF would set up a camp in the vicinity of the station while a smaller force of a half battalion of the Infantry, a half-battery of Artillery and a section of engineers would trace out and occupy a redoubt some miles south east of Langwarrin. Sentries and patrols would be thrown forward to cover the main roads in front of the redoubt.

Cavalry patrols (possibly with the mounted guns of the Nordenfelt battery in support) would be sent far forward to contact the enemy. They would then retire, possibly harassing the enemy as they went.

The redoubt would be reinforced by troops from the camp and battle would commence as the enemy (supposedly advancing from Hastings toward Frankston) came up to this prepared position.

The use of earthworks was also envisioned for the protection of Fort Queenscliff, and as the emergency of 1884 unfolded, one was actually erected, although this author is unaware of it’s precise location.

Monday, September 12, 2005

9" Armstrong RML

9” Armstrong Rifled Muzzle Loader of 12 tons on Iron, Central Pivot Mount
Range: 5029 metres
Crew: 9
Calibre: 9”
Projectile Weight: 256 lb
These guns were purchased by Sir George Vernon in 1866.
Rate of Fire was about one shot every three minutes.
Recoil was controlled by letting the gun slide up a pair of inclined metal rails. It was actually brought to rest by a system of friction plates that were set against each other by a hand-brake.
The gun fired either solid or exploding shells cast in water-cooled moulds to harden their tips for the purpose of armour penetration.

HMVS Albert

Being cleaned and painted in the Albert Graving Dock is the third class gunboat HMVS Albert. She had a complement of 60 all ranks. Built by the Armstrong company in 1883/4 she was unarmoured and armed with one 8” forward, one 6” aft, two 9pdrs and two 3 pdrs. She was transferred to the Department of Public Works in 1897 and sold out of service as a lighter in 1917.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

The Armament of Melbournes' Forts

The Crows Nest position
It covered the blind spot to the Fort towards Point Lonsdale. It was built from 1886 and mounted 1 x 8 In B.L. of 12 Tons on H.P. mounting and 1 x 6 Pr Nordenfelt Q.F. gun on a balanced pillar mounting* for close defence. Both guns were made in 1887 and so of course that is the earliest year in which they could have been emplaced. Both were there as of 1901.

Fort Queenscliff
1885 -3 x 9 In 12 Ton Armstrong Original
Construction R.M.L.'s(on Iron Traversing Platforms)
4 x 80 Pr 81 Cwt (Victorian Order,made by R.G.F.) R.M.L.'s(on Wood Traversing
(+ 2 x 40 Pr Armstrong 'Rifled Breech Loaders' on heavy field mountings)
1887: As above, including;
1 x 6 In B.L. of 5 Tons Armstrong (on H.P. mounting)
1 x 8 In B.L. of 12 Tons Armstrong (on H.P. mounting)
(+ 2 x 6 Pr Armstrong 'Rifled Breech Loaders' - on field mountings?, and 2 x 10 Barrelled 0.45 cal Nordenfelt mechanical machine guns)
- One variation is that one of the 80 Pr R.M.L.'s has been placed on an H.P.
1889: 3 x 80 Pr R.M.L.'s of type above(2 on Wood Traversing Platforms, and 1 on
H.P. mounting)
2 x 6 In B.L. of 5 Tons Armstrong (on H.P. mounting)
1 x 6 In B.L. of 4 Tons Armstrong (on shielded Central Pivot Vavasseur naval
type mounting)
2 x 9.2 In B.L. 20 Tons Armstrong (1 on H.P. mounting, 1 on Central Pivot
Barbette mounting)
1 x 6 Pr Nordenfelt Q.F.
1901: 1 x 80 Pr R.M.L. still on H.P. mounting)
3 x 6 In B.L. of 5 Tons Armstrong(2 on H.P mountings, and 1 on Central Pivot Barbette
mounting)2 x 6 In B.L. of 4 Tons(on shielded Central Pivot Vavasseur naval type mounting)
2 x 9.2 In B.L. 20 Tons Armstrong(1 on H.P. mounting, 1 on Central Pivot Barbette
mounting) There were also 4x 14 Pr (3” cal) Nordenfelt Q.F. guns, apparently not 'fully' mounted, as a saluting battery, plus a 4.7 In Q.F. gun on site. This last one may have been in reserve, i.e. not emplaced. Lastly there were 1 x 2 Barrelled 1 In cal and 4 x 5 Barrelled 0.45 cal Nordenfelt machine guns available

Swan Island
1882: 2 x 9 In R.M.L.'s
1 x 80 Pr R.M.L.
1885: 5 x 80 Pr R.M.L.'s
1 x 6 In B.L. of 4 Tons was added during the year
1887: 1 x 9 In R.M.L.
4 x 80 Pr R.M.L.'s
1 x 6 In B.L. of 4 Tons
(+ positions for 2 x 'Nordenfelt machine guns' - mounted/type?)
Sometime later: 2 x 6 Pr Nordenfelt Q.F guns on Balanced Pillar mountings added
1889: 2 x 5 In B.L. of 3 Tons on H.P. mountings added
June 1890: 1 x 9 In R.M.L.
3 x 5 In B.L. of 3 Tons on H.P. mountings
1 x 80 Pr R.M.L.
2 x 6 pr Nordenfelt Q.F.
2 x 'Nordenfelt machine guns'
Later 1890: total 4 x 5 In B.L. of 3 Tons on H.P. mountings
(+ the othe gun types as for June 1890)
1901: 8 x 5 In B.L. of 3 Tons on H.P. mountings
2 x 6 Pr Nordenfelt Q.F. guns on balanced Pillar mountings
(+ 2 x 5 Barrelled 0.45 cal Nordenfelt mechanical machine guns)

Note: There were a total of 6 x 9 In of 12 Tons R.M.L.'s Armstrong Original construction in the colony. They were shifted around to different places at different times. This was the only model of the gun in Victoria. NSW and SA had different models/marks but they all stayed in their state of 'origin' before and after Federation. They were only ever mounted on Iron Dwarf Tarversing Platforms wherever they were. There were a total of 25 of the 80 Pr R.M.L.'s of the 'Victorian' type in Victoria. Like the 9” they were used in different places (handy to fill in gaps). Unless otherwise stated, they were mounted on Wood Traversing Platforms just like the older 68 Pr Smooth Bore Muzzle Loaders. (I'll get to other mountings for this gun as applicable to other batteries/forts).

There were both 2 Ton and 3 Ton versions of the 5 In B.L. guns.

The 6 In B.L. of 4 Tons Armstrong was a naval service weapon which found its way on land - mounting always is as described for Fort Queenscliff.

*The Ballanced Pillar mountings were one of those things which came about, it would seem, simply because those late Victorian engineers could do it! Just as the same types of 'big' guns (e.g. 9.2 In of 20 Tons) could be placed on a H.P. mounting as well as a Barbette mounting (which didn't require the same complexity), lighter guns had the Ballanced Pillar in addition to ordinary (barbette) mountings. I've seen diagrams for both 6 Pr and 4.7 In guns on the 'BP'. The normal pedestal for the gun sits on a steel pillar or cyclinder which allows it to be raised or lowered behind a parapet or into a pit. This can be done mechanically or hydraullically. The guns stays 'up' throughout any action, unlike the H.P.

Westernport Bay
There was nothing in the way of fixed defences.

The VMF disposed of the following field guns:

1885: 12 x 12 1/2 Pdr B.L.
6 x 12 Pdr
6 x 40 Pdr R.B.L.
1896: 19 x 12 Pdr B.L.
6 x 12 Pdr R.B.L.
6 x 6 Pdr R.B.L.
6 x 40 Pdr R.B.L.
1901: 18 x 12 1/2 Pdr B.L.
6 x 40 Pdr R.B.L.
6 x 6 Pdr R.B.L.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Port Phillip and Westernport Bays

Eighty Pounder

80 Pounder Rifled Muzzle Loader of 4.35 tons on Wood, Central Pivot Mount
Range: 2000 metres
Crew: 9
Calibre: 6.25”
Projectile Weight: 88.3 lb
These guns were among those purchased by Sir George Vernon in 1866.
Recoil was controlled by letting the gun run up a wooden slide.
The gun fired either solid or exploding shells cast in water-cooled moulds to harden their tips for the purpose of armour penetration.

Defending Melbourne in 1885

Battle Plans – The Fortifications of Port Phillip Bay and the Victorian Navy

In this, the second article of this series, I will discuss the Victorian Navy and the fortifications of Port Phillip Bay. As we have seen in Part 1, peace may have brought plenty to the Colony, but it also bought a degree of paranoia. As a result the Victorians built an extensive system of fortifications in addition to buying themselves a Navy.

Port Phillip Bay is of very considerable extent, and opens into the dangerous waters of Bass Strait via the Rip, a complicated and fast-flowing tidal race some 3km wide.

Within Port Phillip, there are only three practical channels that take ships into the inner harbour. From the west they are; West Channel, usable to ships with a draught of less than 6 metres, which has the most direct route North into Melbourne; Symonds Channel which is usable to ships with a draught of less than 5.50 metres and; South Channel: this last could be used by ships drawing less than 7.50 metres of water.

At the very northern part of the Bay, lies Hobsons Bay. Hobsons bay is defined by the elevated peninsula of Williamstown to the west and by the low, flat salient formed by Point Ormond to the east.

Along the West coast are the towns of Warrnambool, Port Fairy (known in earlier times as Belfast) and finally Portland. These towns were all important in the coastal trade that flourished before railways were driven along the coast.

To the east of Port Phillip lies Westernport Bay. In the bay are; French Island to the north and Phillip Island to the south. The principal town on the western shore is Hastings.

The Fortifications and the Navy

Fortification – the State of the Art in 1885
A watershed moment passed in the science of fortification at the bombardment of Alexandria 1881. At this time coast defences bore a close resemblance to the ships. The guns were muzzle-loaders, arranged in long batteries like a broadside, often in two tiers. The improvement of rifled ordnance had called for increased protection, and this was found first by solid constructions of granite, and latterly by massive iron fronts; an example of this type of fortification remains today at Fort Denison in Sydney. This structure sits in the middle of the Harbour. It is of massive rock construction with a tier of guns mounted behind a stone parapet with the somewhat unique inclusion of a Martello tower at one end.

The range of guns being then relatively short, it was necessary to place forts at fairly close intervals, and where the channels to be defended could not be spanned from the shore, massive structures with two or even three tiers of guns, placed as close as on board ship and behind heavy armour, were built up from the ocean bed – again the example of Denison comes to mind, and a similar concept can be seen in the Hobsons Bay gun raft q.v. which was a 68pr mounted on a raft that would presumably be moored off Williamstown.

The bombardment of Alexandria established new applications of old principles by showing the value of concealment and dispersion in reducing the effect of the fire of the fleet. On the old system firing at an iron-fronted fort shot mainly into the brown. If they missed the gun being aimed at, then the one to the right or left was likely to be hit. At Alexandria, however, the Egyptian guns were scattered over a long line of shore, and it was soon found that with the guns and gunners available, hits could only be obtained by running in to short range and dealing with one gun at a time.

Furthermore, the Royal Engineers report submitted following an examination of the forts found that sand embankments had the ability to deflect high velocity ordnance and that sand embankments provided a level of protection far in excess of anything that contemporary military technologists could then conceive. Thus it was that the new Victorian forts found themselves with long glacis of either earth or sand.

The increasing power of defensive artillery meant then that defence installations could be smaller, better concealed and more widely dispersed than before. On the other hand, the ships, too, gained increased range and increased accuracy of fire, so that it became necessary in many cases to advance the general line of the coast defences farther from the harbour or dockyard to be defended, in order to keep the attackers out of range of the objective. In the case of Melbourne, the topography of the Bay meant that a fortuitous “choke point” was available at the entrance that was amenable to fortification while being at the same time a very great distance from the city.

The Strategy
The scheme for the defence of Melbourne was determined by the topography of the bay. Port Phillip Bay can only be entered via the Rip, a narrow stretch of dangerous water no more than 3 km wide. Strong positions were thus built at Queenscliff and Point Nepean to bring ships entering the Heads under fire.

West Channel was defended by the battery at Swan Island and a battery was constructed at Point Franklin to deny warships a safe anchorage should they manage to fight their way through South Channel.

The shallower channels would be blocked at wars’ outbreak by hulks purchased for that purpose by the Government and, if time permitted would also be mined. South Channel was to be protected by a minefield consisting (in 1885) if 56 buoyant and 96 ground mines, the latter controlled from stations at South Channel Fort and South Channel Pile Light. South Channel Fort was there to stop any enemy from approaching Melbourne by this only practicable deep-water avenue and to prevent any enemy from attacking the minefield itself.

In a memo dated December 1884, the Naval Commandant Captain A. Brodrick Thomas addressed a memo to F. Sargood, the Minister of Defence. The topic addressed was the best and quickest method for defending Port Phillip, especially the South Channel, keeping in mind that South Channel Fort was then still under construction, and did not mount any guns until the first quarter of 1885.

Concern was raised that the only portion of South Channel that could practicably be mined, was well out of range of any shore-based guns. Following from this was the logical conclusion that South Channel Fort be completed as a matter of urgency. In the meantime the Victorian Fleet would be deployed in such a manner as to defend the minefield.

Captain Thomas goes on to explain the jeopardy an enemy would be in as he passed the Heads:
“The better to explain the proposed defence of the port, I will suppose an enemy's ship attempting to enter the Heads and proceeding towards the South Channel at a speed of 13 knots, and show the difficulties she would have to encounter, allowing 3,500 yards to be the effective range of the defending guns... She should be under fire from Nepean fort for one mile, or 4m. 37s. of time. She then comes under fire of the Queenscliff battery, and gradually bearing away for the South Channel, will be under fire of both forts for 4,800 yards, or 11 minutes of time. She is then out of range of Nepean, and a quarter of a mile further off Queenscliff, and comes under fire of the proposed guns at Point Franklin and Point King, for 20 minutes.”

Fleet Deployment
Captain Thomas proposed to dispose of his naval assets thus: “The Cerberus, accompanied by the Victoria and the Albert, would attack the enemy immediately she entered the Heads, who would thus be exposed to an additional fire from four 18-ton guns, one 25-ton gun, one 12-ton gun, and one 4-ton gun, besides small guns and machine-guns. Two of the torpedo boats should accompany the Cerberus, and, under cover of the fire from the ships and forts, attack as opportunities occurred. As soon as their torpedoes were discharged, they should retire at full speed to the Nelson, which would carry spare torpedoes. The boats Batman and Fawkner were to be stationed in rear of the first minefield. The Nelson will be stationed at the east entrance of the South Channel with supplies of spare ammunition, torpedoes, &c., and will be in readiness to assist in defending the minefields. The third torpedo boat will be in reserve with the Nelson.”

Observation and firing stations for the minefields were to be built at South Channel Fort and at the South Channel Pile Light.

The defences of the South Channel made great use of mines, often called torpedoes at the time – what we would call torpedos today, military people in the 1880s would most likely call “locomotive torpedos”. The first field consisted of 42, 500lb observation mines. Observation mines were mines that sat on the sea-bed under observation from a shore station. When an enemy ship passed among them, the observers would detonate the mines.

The second field consisted of 102, 250lb observation mines. The Batman and the Fawkner would commence firing on any enemy who managed to pass the forts at the Heads, overpowering the ships there. These were auxiliary gunboats retained by the government and strengthened forward to take a single 64PR rifled muzzle-loader.

Were the enemy successful in destroying or forcing the first torpedo-field, the gunboats were to retire behind the second torpedo-field where they would act with the Nelson in its’ defence. The reserve torpedo boat and the two others, should they have survived the initial onslaught, would attack targets of opportunity.

It was recognised that the depth of water and strength of the tide at the Heads made difficult defending the entrance to the Bay with observation mines. Captain Thomas then goes on to make reference to a confidential report wherein he discusses using “mechanical mines” in difficult areas such as this as well as in some places in South Channel.

Were war suddenly declared, it was proposed that the West Channel be completely blocked by mechanical mines and other obstructions, such as hulks hat could be purchased by the government and sunk at short notice. Any attempt to destroy these obstructions would have to be undertaken under the fire of Swan Island fort. Electric lights and guard boats would be required at night. It was thought by Captain Thomas that this system of defence would free the Victorian navy and the torpedo corps to concentrate their efforts in the defence of the South Channel.

Captain Thomas further proposed that the fitting out of any small steamers as could be rounded up with spar torpedos would be a valuable addition to the gun defences the military commandant was arranging for the defence of Hobsons Bay, although he would have preferred a Whitehead torpedo boat for special service in Hobson's Bay as a valuable protection.

Should war break out, it was recommend the Government select certain suitable steamers, which, ballasted and protected would be a valuable addition to the naval forces. It was also thought the unarmoured vessels of the Victorian Navy could be easily protected with additional coal filing the compartments around the ships’ machinery.

The Fleet
In 1885 the Victorian Navy was both a fairly large and efficient force. It had a history going back to 1856 when it took delivery of the HMCS Victoria. The Victoria had a busy career, participating in the Maori Wars in New Zealand, survey and rescue as well as an attempt at relieving the Bourke and Wills Exploring Expedition. By 1882 she was hopelessly obsolete and was decommissioned and sold out of service.

The Navy had found its nucleus in the early (1871) purchase of a turreted coastal defence monitor, the HMVS Cerberus. Having made the perilous journey from the UK to Victoria, the Cerberus took up it’s post as Flagship. With her powerful armament and heavy armour she was one of the strongest units in the Southern hemisphere and an undoubted defensive asset.

Additional purchases in 1884 meant the Victorian Navy additionally disposed of two Armstrong gunboats, one first-class and two second-class Thornycroft torpedo boats. Then there was the Nelson, an old steam-driven line-of-battle ship of wooden construction. Victoria had taken possession of her from the royal Navy as a gift. It was intended she be used as a training vessel and as such she served, although the thrifty Victorians could not resist treating her as worthy of still standing in the battle line. Additionally the Victorian Navy disposed of a number of small steam launches fitted with spar torpedos and larger steamships fitted with one or more heavy guns as in Table 2 below.

The Victorian Navy 30th May, 1885
Two 7” RML, eighteen 64PR ML

Ironclad Monitor
Four 10” RML, four Nordenfelt machineguns

3rd Class Gunboat
One 10”BL, two 13 PR, two Nordenfelt machineguns

3rd Class Gunboat
One 8”BL, one 6”BL, two 9 PR, two Nordenfelt machineguns

First-class torpedo boat
Two 15” torpedo tubes, two Nordenfelt machineguns

Second-class torpedo boat
One 14” torpedo tube

Second-class torpedo boat
One 14” torpedo tube

Inshore minelayer

Auxiliary Gunboat
One 64PR SB

Auxiliary Gunboat
One 64PR SB

Auxiliary Gunboat
One 64PR SB

Spar Torpedo Boat

Spar Torpedo Boat

Spar Torpedo Boat

No. 1
Spar Torpedo Boat

Despatch vessel

Pilot Vessel

Government Yacht

Having all these resources at their disposal, the Victorian Government needed a Field Force to counter whatever land forces a foe-man might have attempted to throw upon their shores. In the next part of out series we look at the army of the Colony of Victoria.

To War?

What if the Russians Came?

Defending Melbourne in 1885

Setting the Scene
This article represents one of the “what ifs?” from history. What if war had broken out between Britain and Russia in 1885? What if a Russian force had been able to make an attempt on Melbourne either by land or by sea?

In the years before Federation in 1901, it is a relatively little-known fact that the Australian Colonies built up in some cases fairly considerable defence Forces. I will use this article to take a look at the Victorian Military Forces (VMF) and attempt to demonstrate how they intended to fight off an attacker.

In the Victorian (and more broadly, Australian) context there was by 1885 already a long-standing theme of looking toward a troubled Europe as a source of drawing Britain into wars. That the preoccupation of the Mother Country in such a hypothetical conflict could leave her widely-scattered colonies denuded of defence was often expressed as a source of alarm by the colonists.

Russia was at the centre of such a crisis in 1885. Since as long back as 1877 and even further, Britain had been increasingly concerned about Russian influence in Afghanistan. For many years this isolated and mountainous land had been regarded by Britain as a buffer between her own and Russia’s respective spheres of influence. In that year, Britain went so far as to invade that land in an attempt to oust Amir Shere Ali when they became convinced the Russians had too large a degree of influence over him. In any event the attempt failed and Ali was in turn replaced by the neutrally-minded Abdurraman.

In March 1885 Russian forces soundly defeated an Afghan force at the village of Pendjeh on the northern Afghan border.

On March 23rd the British army in India was preparing to march on the frontier. On the 25th, all British Naval commanders were telegraphed to the effect that they were to prepare all available warships for immediate commission.

In Victoria preparations were immediately put in effect to bring her Military Forces to a state of readiness.

Invasion fears and the Victorian Scene
The Victorian Colonists feared invasion in the latter half of the 19th Century:
“Since the 50s there was a degree of paranoia about the possibility of invasion; and the 80s with its unstable international situation & the widening interest of France & Germany in the Pacific caused alarm. This led to a rapid defence build-up in Victoria. Large fortified batteries were set up at Swan Island, Queenscliff, Point Nepean, and on the shoals at the entrance to the Harbour. Security was there provided the troops didn’t land along the undefended coast. The Victorian Volunteer Artillery was disbanded & replace with the Victorian Artillery Corps & the Victorian Mounted Rifles. Cadet corps were established in state schools and rifle clubs encouraged. More Batteries at Portland Port Fairy & Warrnambool were set up. 1884 saw the Victorian Navy purchase 2 gunboats and 3 torpedo boats. 2 barges on which gun platforms could be set up were established.

“It was all right to be prepared, but there was no one to fight. It was hoped that Victoria could help in February 1885 when news came from Sudan that General Gordon had been killed in the Sudan, but the offer (of two gunboats and a First Class Torpedo Boat, at the time in-transit on their delivery voyages) was rejected by Britain. By March however, people were talking about, and even hoping for, a defence against a Russian invasion. Victorians believed that if Britain were involved in an European war, Melbourne would be a prime target. When Britain and Russia came close to war over Afghanistan in 1885, fortification works at the Heads were speeded up, the channel at the heads was mined, foreign ships were not allowed to enter at night and a number of old hulks were purchased to be sunk at the Heads if necessary. A new division of the Mounted Rifles was established in the country; people armed themselves, drilled in the city streets and attended patriotic meetings. Terms arranged with Russia in May brought a sense of disappointed anticlimax. This sense of vulnerability lasted for the rest of the 1880s and started a small flood of literature setting out what would be the likely outcome of invasions by the Japanese, Russians, Chinese and others.(1)”

Possibility of Invasion
“The colony's defence forces were raised with one purpose only - protection against invasion. The question inevitably arises - was invasion ever a real possibility? This cannot be properly answered, but a memo by Major-General E. Harding Steward, dated 17 November 1884, and on a file of the Victorian Defence Department (0/2/1/1) gives an interesting but unfortunately unverified account of one such planned invasion. Obviously General Steward felt the incident to be true.

“The account states that the Russian Colonel Bodisco during his stay in Japan in 1878, married the daughter of an American lady from California. The Best Man was an officer of the Royal Marine Artillery. This officer gradually became friendly with Bodisco and with the Russian Admiral, and pieced together from their indiscretions the following information.

“Bodisco, who was possibly a Russian secret agent, arrived in Japan in 1877 at the height of the crisis between his country and Great Britain. To the Admiral of the Russian Asiatic Squadron he carried two plans, one of which (at the Admiral's choice) must be carried out immediately news of hostilities between the two countries was received by wire. As the Japanese telegraph link to Europe was through Vladivostock, the Russian admiral should obtain the information ahead of the British. The first project was to attack Hong Kong, supposed to be "in an imperfect State of defence" and then Singapore, "not at that time provided with any fixed defences". This plan was rejected, mainly because the Russian admiral calculated that he might not be sure of leaving Singapore and getting well on his way across the Pacific in time to avoid meeting the British squadron.

“The second proposal, which was chosen by the Admiral, was an attack on Newcastle, Sydney and Melbourne. The five fast steam cruisers of the Russian squadron would leave Japanese ports singly, and rendezvous and call at one of the Ryukyu Islands. They would then make direct for Newcastle, shell the town, compel the port authorities to fill the bunkers of the cruisers, and seize two steam vessels and load them with coal to accompany the squadron. They would then go to Sydney, attack it, and if successful exact surrender of all the bullion in the bank. This operation was to be repeated in Melbourne, after rushing the Heads. The plan then was to circumnavigate Australia, destroying all British vessels encountered en route, to call again at Newcastle for coal, and then strike across the Pacific for San Francisco. Of course, war did not break out, and consequently the scheme was never attempted.

“Is the story authentic? It is known that a Russian squadron visited the Australian ports shortly before, diligently seeking information about each harbour. The Russian Admiral went so far as to exercise some of his officers in marine surveying in Port Phillip, and became most interested in the shoals and their possible alteration. He was also kind enough to allow the port authorities to compare his record of soundings with theirs. General Steward writes that what is not known is that in the winter of 1876, five of the Russian officers revisited Melbourne as private individuals, returning to their ships in the spring, and that Colonel Bodisco had with him while in Japan, a complete, set of Admiralty charts of the Australian ports. The Royal Marine Artillery officer, who is said to have obtained this information when friendly relations between the two countries was restored, speaks of the Russian admiral as one "who appears to have possessed the instinct of a true buccaneer" and who "became almost too frank, especially over his post prandial cups". He adds, "On one occasion he went so far as to say, Striking his thigh at the same time with considerable energy, "Fancy one, after all, missing such a chance! Six millions Sterling! Why, there would not have been such a coup since the days of the Spanish galleons!" (2)”

The Strategic Scene
The defence planners deciding how best to organise the defences of the Colony would have found themselves with the following parameters:

The attacker would be France or Russia
Of the European powers only France and Russia had the capability at this time of launching such an attack from the forces they deployed in the Far East.
The remaining independent or semi-independent, Asian Powers (Japan, China and Siam) either had not or did not intend to develop the trans-Oceanic capability needed to launch amphibious operations.
These were the only two Powers with whom the British Empire had any sense of animus against each other or where spheres of influence rubbed up against each other.

The Colony will never be attacked by more than a raiding force
The tyranny of distance means that an attacker would never be able to support a large invading army (considering the logistics of the time) that would be needed to overwhelm the local land forces (roughly a brigade of four battalions and three batteries of field artillery) and any re-enforcement the other colonies could send (especially New South Wales).
Attacking the Australian Colonies would never be more than an attack upon the prestige of the British Empire. I do not believe the Australian Colonies were a vital interest of the Empire, although the loss of the gold might hurt somewhat in the short term, I wonder if it'd make all that much of a difference in the sense of fighting a war at the time. Any Power capable of mustering the shipping and force to mount of attack would never spare so much on an attack that would never have more than a marginal effect upon the strategic scene.
No force will be able to remain for any length of time because the Australian Squadron will be beating a path toward them as fast as telegraph and fast steamer will allow.

The Attack will be upon the City of Melbourne
Apart from shooting up the coastal trade, what else is there to do? There are 6 millions in sterling in the bank, after all!
Landing a force anywhere but Melbourne means that it is stranded in largely unpopulated countryside that a European Army could not "live off" at the end of a very long logistic trail. Such a force would be very vulnerable.

In the next part of this series, I shall be looking at the fortifications of Port Phillip Bay.

1. Garden, D. “History of Victoria”, 1988 page 256.
2. Jones, C. "Australian Colonial Navies"
3. Millor, T.B. “History of the Defence Forces of the Port Phillip District and Colony of Victoria, 1836-1900”, M.A. Thesis 1957
4. Nichols, B. "The Colonial Volunteers: The Defence Forces of the Australian Colonies, 1836-1901"

Defending Melbourne

This Blog is here to give me a space to put out some materials I have written over the past eighteen months on the defenses for Port Phillip Bay and Melbourne in South-Eastern Australia in the later 19th Century.